Stop cribbing about Associates getting a raw deal, ICC World T20 structure is just fine
Label it whatever you like. At the end of the day, the Associates are all in India, at the same time as the Full Members, playing televised matches. Objectively, you could argue that every round is a qualifier until you reach the final. The ICC World Twenty20 structure is just fine.
Israel did not see the 1973 Yom Kippur war coming. Immediately following, its leaders decided that change was necessary and asked the Directorate of Military Intelligence to create a “devil’s advocate” department.
Others call it the “10th man” theory.
It contends that if nine men are all handed the same information and come to the exact same rational conclusion, then it is the duty of the 10th man to somehow posit a different proposition. It exists to minimise the risk that ‘group-think’ may cause by preventing diverse opinions from being considered.
Cricket is currently suffering from a distinct lack of the ‘10th man’ theory when it comes to Associates and the ICC World Twenty20.
Essentially, two debates are being morphed into one.
Debate No.1 is the long-running discussion about whether Associates need more funding, more matches or whether Associates as a concept should even exist? Why have different levels of cricket status? Can’t we all just be ranked from 1 through to 190 and play each other in any format we choose?
Debate No.2 challenges the fairness of the ICC World Twenty20 structure.
Isn’t the Group Stage really just another qualification round? Isn’t the ICC just lying to us when it says the World Twenty20 is a 16-nation event? Hasn’t the lack of reserve days in the Group Stage has cost teams like Netherlands and Ireland a fair shot at progressing? Given the top-8 ranked Full Members don’t even appear until the Super 10s, surely the tournament is stacked in their favour?
It is just one big ICC conspiracy to keep Associate member nations from growing and competing, ensuring all of the revenues stay with the Big Three.
Or is it?
For better or for worse, the ICC have a tiered structure of member nations. If you have never bothered to understand the criteria required to be an Associate, it is worth a reference.
The ICC has put in place a series of competencies, both result-driven and off-field, that in its opinion are required to help foster long-term stability of cricket in that country.
You can disagree with it if you like.
But it exists, it objectively has some level of merit, and on many levels seeks to provide organisational structure. However, that discussion is for another debate and is clouding the more topical conversation.
That being: ‘is the ICC World Twenty20 a legitimately structured tournament’?
At the moment, nine men are all concluding the same. That is, it is unfair to the Associates.
So let’s look at this from the view of the 10th man.
First, there is a common perception that the ICC World Twenty20 should provide all qualifiers the same chance of success. For example, perhaps all 16 teams should be playing the same amount of pool games like in the FIFA World Cup. Some argue that having the Group Stage without the top-8 ranked nations is far from ideal.
However, it is not unique to cricket that seeded teams have an advantage in a tournament.
The FA Cup is one of the world’s longest-running sporting events. It has six qualifying rounds before the higher-ranked sides are required to play.
The US College Football system uses a voting system to decide who plays off for the National Championship. A lower-ranked team may play its season undefeated yet not be invited to participate in the final match of the season.
In cricket’s Champions Trophy, only seeded teams can actually compete. The West Indies didn’t make the next one. They were not good enough.
Furthermore, some argue that rain has negatively impacted the ability of at least two of the Associate members from having a fair shot at winning the Group Stage.
It is true that rain has been a factor. But rain has been a factor in cricket since the beginning of the sport.
If you recall, it cost South Africa a spot in the 1992 World Cup Final.
Should the tournament be played as a knockout event, then the necessity for reserve days would be heightened given a winner is required from every match. However, the Group Stage is a pool phase and not Wimbledon. Therefore rain is merely a “rub of the green” event.
Irrespective of the amount of inclement weather, there were always going to be two qualifiers who made it to the Super 10s.
Concurrently, the harsh reality is that 16 teams were invited to the World Twenty20. That’s more than at the ODI World Cup last year.
The argument that the Full Member nations have an easy ride compared to the Associates doesn’t necessarily stack up either.
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe didn’t automatically qualify for the Super 10s, and Zimbabwe weren’t even good enough to get through the group stage.
You can argue that Associates don’t play enough T20Is to improve. However, Australia only played one of them in 2015. They entered this tournament ranked 6th. At the last World Twenty20, they were ranked 8th.
If the Associates want to play more, nothing is stopping them.
Just because you play cricket doesn’t give a nation the automatic right to play against the best teams. Take boxing for example. It takes years of winning lower-ranked matches before one gets a title shot.
The inconvenient truth is that the Group Stages of the World Twenty20 were shown live on TV around the world. Players from Scotland, Hong Kong, Ireland, The Netherlands, Oman and Afghanistan all had plenty of exposure.
Afghanistan have taken their chance. Players like Hassan and Shazhad are now close to household names to those that follow the sport for their deeds on the field.
Here is a country that had risen above one of the nastiest wars in human history. They have little money or infrastructure. But they found a way.
Ireland, too, have matches planned in 2016 at home against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. They too are starting to force opportunities to happen.
Because of qualifying for and performing on the world stage at the latest ICC events. Is this tournament of a perfect egalitarian structure?
But neither does it have to be.
It is not unique in seeding teams and giving them an advantage due to their likely ability to perform.
Those that blindly squabble about this are misguided.
Better would be to ask why the Associate nations are not playing more among themselves for greater experience or why only Afghanistan are having success in ICC tournaments? What are these countries’ boards doing to get their players domestic T20 experience in the Big Bash or IPL?
Because to be honest, the semantic arguments such as “the Group Stages are really just qualifiers” is beginning to grate.
Label it whatever you like. At the end of the day, the Associates are all in India, at the same time as the Full Members, playing televised matches.
Objectively, you could argue that every round is a qualifier until you reach the final. The ICC World Twenty20 structure is just fine.
But I have to say that.
I am the 10th man.
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